The ABC FPL Transfer Guide Midfield Edition

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The ABC FPL Transfer Guide – Wildcard: Agents of Midfield Edition 2021/22

At the start of last season I researched what went into elite performance for players in FPL and found that, for all the statistics and marginal gains that many of us genuinely enjoy searching for, you could encapsulate what makes a top FPL asset in three simple metrics:

A) Get Returns (5+ FPL points) in at least three of their team’s six most recent matches

B) Get a Haul (10+ FPL points) in at least one of their team’s six most recent matches

C) Play at least 410 of the available 540 minutes

I called these the ABC Transfer Criteria – signals you should look for that make a player, especially an attacker, worth keeping in your FPL squad or transferring in. With six Gameweeks now played in this fledgling new Premier League season it’s time to get out the graphics and see which midfielders are performing at that elite level so far:

Unlike strikers where, unless you’re Watford, typically there’s only one strong option in the running for FPL selection, you can see from the graphic above that strong midfielder performance this season is at least partially related to a strong team performance. 

If you’re Wildcarding, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you should include one midfielder from each of:

  • Liverpool
  • Everton
  • Manchester United
  • West Ham

But which midfielder?

LIVERPOOL
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If you look at some underlying stats (in the Fantasy Football Scout Members Area, for example) you discover that Sadio Mané (£11.9m) has the same value for attempts in the box and minutes per chance as Mohamed Salah (£12.6m), but the same number of big chances and goals as Diogo Jota (£7.7m). Salah has 57 points, Mané 34 and Jota 30. Salah has three double-figure Hauls and neither of the other two has any. It hasn’t taken FPL managers long to vote with their feet (fingers?). Salah is 59% owned, Jota is 18% owned and Mané is… 3% owned. And that sounds about right. It would be one heck of a rank swing if Salah blanked while Mané scored a hat-trick. Or at least it would be if anybody had captained Mané. Which looks increasingly unlikely.

EVERTON
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Dominic Calvert-Lewin was absolutely tearing it up with a goal in every game for the Toffees until his toe brought him to heel. Then Richarlison’s knee wasn’t hip and suddenly it was down to Everton’s midfield to put their feet to the floor. Both Abdoulaye Doucouré and Andros Townsend brought home Hauls against Burnley and Norwich. Townsend’s most recent goal came from a penalty, duties he will be handing over as soon as one of the strikers gets back on the pitch while Doucouré has matched the start of Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus with two goals and three assists at the very healthy rate of 6.3 FPL points per appearance. Meanwhile, Demarai Gray has bagged three goals and Returned in four of the six early-season fixtures, but is yet to break into double-figures in a match, not least because the more all-round exploits of the other two have put them ahead in the queue for bonus points. WIth only £0.3m between them in price Doucouré has to be the pick. It turns out he’s also a big differential in ownership (5%) when compared to Gray (19%). And before you ask they have the same number of attempts in the box. And big chances. And Doucouré gets more shots on target. And is currently the best value midfielder in the game. 

MANCHESTER UNITED
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Bruno Fernandes is the Red Devils’ leading goalscorer with four. He has played the entire season bar six minutes and, since the opening afternoon when everything he hit went in against Leeds, he has only added one further goal (which nobody noticed because it was in Cristiano Ronaldo’s debut game against Newcastle). He has not registered an assist and his most recent penalty attempt caused air traffic control almost as much trouble as a drone at Gatwick. At the end of Gameweek 4 mid-priced team-mates Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood had both drawn alongside Bruno in terms of total FPL points and his misadventure from the spot meant he has now taken a step back while they stood still for two games and still moved ahead of him.

Take away the home thumpings of Leeds and Newcastle and Manchester United’s season has been a bit… average. Two narrow wins and a draw away from home before the late debacle at home to Villa. Mason Greenwood, who has not yet played fewer than 72 minutes in a league game this season, managed a goal in two of those scrappy away fixtures which turned him into a steady purveyor of points, avoiding the dramatic peaks and troughs experienced by Pogba and Fernandes owners. And there are still a LOT of those. Fernandes is owned by more than a quarter of FPL managers, Pogba by more than a fifth. Greenwood is in 16% of squads, which isn’t shabby either. Jesse Lingard is owned by just 1% and has played for a grand total of 45 minutes, but (whisper it) has Returns in as many games (two) as Pogba and Fernandes. He’s also missed three games entirely, thus avoiding those annoying two pointers and giving the potential gift of Bench Hero Dividends, but at £6.9m he’s a bit pricey for a 5th midfielder. With Bruno finally looking mortal, which of Pogba and Greenwood you go for depends on whether you think Pogba can keep feeding passes to colleagues hitting the target in blow-outs or Greenwood is going to keep getting more than two shots in the box per game with Ronaldo around.

WEST HAM UNITED
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It isn’t going to be me who’s going to talk you out of picking Said Benrahma, the guy with three double-figure hauls from six games who is only outscored for FPL points by Salah as a midfielder and two other players in the whole game (Joao Cancelo and team-mate Michail Antonio) while being available at £6.6m. If I was even going to try I might point out that Jarrod Bowen has created as many chances and had more shots in the box, that Pablo Fornals has better shot accuracy and a more impressive goal conversion rate or that Tomas Soucek has had almost twice as many attempts in the area and is £0.7m cheaper. But that wouldn’t change anything. You’d just point at Benrahma’s 8 bonus points, including one from the 2-1 win over Leeds where he didn’t get a clean sheet nor have anything directly to do with either goal, and his 10 and his 12 and his other 12. And you’d shrug. And I’d nod. And we’d both pick Benrahma. 

So, we’re agreed on Salah, Doucouré and Benrahma, then? But we’re not certain about that whole Manchester United thing. And anyway, we’ve got to pick five midfielders. So who else is there poking their head above the points parapet?

THE OTHER ELITE MIDFIELDERS

It’s been a bit lost in the general turmoil at Spurs, but Son Heung-min has quietly scored in every other game he’s played in. Imagine what might start to happen if Harry Kane looked interested again. The South Korean has already reached double figures twice.

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Watford’s Ismaila Sarr has only managed that once, but he did put 15 on the board to go with a pair of 9s while coming over all on-form Raheem Sterling. Nominal winger Sarr has not actually had an assist yet, but when you cost a mere £6.3m, you’ve played every minute of every game and only Mohamed Salah, Jamie Vardy and Michail Antonio have scored more goals than you it’s perhaps odd that you’re only trusted by 18% of FPL managers. Saturday’s joust with a Leeds defence currently more perpetually reconfigured than staircases in a school of magic is hardly likely to deter prospective purchasers, though they may be a bit reticent about the tough-looking double-Merseyside with Southampton and Arsenal menu that lies just beyond.

The final midfielder qualifying for elite FPL status according to the ABC criteria is Chelsea’s… go on, guess… no looking… noooo, not him… not him either… no, he’s been injured… and he just isn’t being picked. Give up? The gang takes off the disguise to reveal… Mateo Kovacic!! It’s in the assists. He’s got three of them, and a goal. Well, *somebody* has to make the final passes for that Belgian chap everybody’s captaining up front. And, at the moment, at least, it’s Mr Kovacic who’s played the entire of the last three league matches and of whom his manager has just said, “I think football now is about connections and Lukaku feels a strong connection with Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic, everyone else lacks it a little bit.” Did I mention that Kovacic is priced at £5.2m, cheaper than any of the main Everton options, and has one more FPL point than Diogo “three Liverpool is essential” Jota?  If £5.2m is all you’ve got left for a fifth midfielder I can’t think of a better home for it.

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ANY MORE FOR ANY MORE?

If, on the other hand, you’ve got another £0.5m to spend, go directly to Conor Gallagher. Do not pass Gross or collect two hundred Mounts. If you doubt the wisdom of this, just watch him and Crystal Palace play, especially at home. None of his individual attacking statistics really leaps off the page. For some stats, that page is not even the first one. And then you flick over to expected goal involvement and – my gosh! – there he is! FIFTH, behind only Anfield’s finest and Bruno Fernandes who must still somehow be being kept afloat by that Leeds game. It doesn’t take long watching him at work to see why Marcelo Bielsa was so keen to get Gallagher to Elland Road, but missed out to the prospect of regular football, an exciting new Crystal Palace project under Patrick Vieira and the ability to continue using his Oyster card. Two goals and three assists in five outings, with only a daft, late booking against Brighton keeping him from reaching elite FPL performance levels outright. As many points as Son, one fewer than Bruno Fernandes and two behind Sadio Mané. Wilfried Zaha is also doing very well, but he costs £1.2m more. Get Conor Gallagher in now. You’ll be glad you did.

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Bielsa, meanwhile will have to make do with Raphinha. My admiration for the Brazilian nutmegmeister has few equals, but… it would be nice if he could occasionally score more than one goal or provide more than one assist in a match. It’s almost as if he feels it would detract artistically from the one he’s already made to put a copy in such close proximity to it. I’m not certain he hasn’t taken a leaf out of the Johan Cruyff book and is now placing shots with laser guided precision against the furthest available piece of woodwork to keep everybody else interested while providing personal aesthetic satisfaction for himself. If he could just see his way to nonchalantly scuffing in a second or ricocheting a corner in off both posts, the bar and Rodrigo’s hairstyle we’re sure 18% of FPL managers and millions of Leeds United fans around the world would applaud quite enthusiastically.

If owning Raphinha sounds a bit too exciting you could always pay £0.1m less and have Youri Tielemans instead. He comes pre-loaded with Stuart Dallas Mode, generating a hearty thump into the net every so often while his occasional through balls for a hungry striker are guaranteed to make the live matches just fly by. When you absolutely, positively have to score the prescribed minimum number of points in the recommended number of appearances, accept no substitute.

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RIEN NE VA PLUS

Mind you, if the idea of turning every Premier League fixture into a heady spin of the wheel of fate is your personal FPL playing style then grab yourself a bucket of Brentford, Arsenal, Manchester City and Aston Villa midfielders. None has managed three returns so far, while eight (EIGHT!) of them have posted one, single double-figure score. Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish look the most likely to eventually put a bit of a run together, but for health reasons we cannot recommend owning both of them at the same time.

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